3 lessons from graphic design that work in copywriting

Design and copy need each other.

Both determine the amount of attention our content gets and impacts how the audience feels about what they can see or read. Design and copy went hand-in-hand back when newspaper ads were the hype, and do even more now in the digital marketing world that we live in.

Copywriters and designers don’t often cross over in their academic or professional spaces, which is a weird statistic, given that their final products are so intimately related.

This divorce often makes creative projects suffer. Having talented copywriters and designers that don’t understand each other’s work process can often result in delays, and disconnects in the full vision. This painful back and forth can even continue through project completion, when it is deemed “good enough” – but not everyone is happy.

Design isn’t just about how pretty your copy looks, or which color palette best represents your tone of voice. The larger concept of design is a broad umbrella that covers all of our creative endeavors, enables natural interaction with our products, and takes the audience on a journey.  

I decided to dive in and learn more about the connection between design and copy. Here are 3 principles from graphic design that can help you bring your copy to life.

  1. Guide your audience with hierarchy
    Hierarchy designates how texts and images are organized and prioritized visually. Designers have an endless number of techniques that enable them to subtly direct the audience where to place their attention – color, contrast, typography, spacing, and other basic principles. Hierarchy gives a design direction, a start point and a finish line. In copywriting, that direction is given by the space between your subtitles, bullet points or paragraph segments. Creating text areas of similar length will tell the readers where to look for key concepts and help your audience to easily identify the core of your message.Remember, we live in the TL;DR era, so equipping your text with “signal” words and titling saves your audience time, and it saves you from a bounce rate heartbreak. 
  2. Color means emotion, and make it clear and simple
    Color theory is a fascinating world. Starting with nature’s own coding, in addition to the layers of human experience that have built our relationship to the color wheel, there is a vast universe for exploration (not to mention, the unhealthy amounts of time spent playing with palette generators, just because it feels good).But looking at modern visual design you’ll notice that high profit, successful brands stick to minimalistic choices of color: white, grays, black and a highlight color. Colors also aid in the decision making process for users (like guiding Tinder slides) which makes use of universally accepted color coding: red means no, green means go, and white signifies surrender.In the same way, effective or beautiful copy doesn’t have to be complex. Having clarity and narrowing down your communication goals (whether it’s for color or wording) will make your core message stand out more clearly.Although as copywriters we’re very much stuck with white and our favorite shade of black, think of color as the emotion you want to evoke in your audience. Before you start writing, clearly state this emotion and look to make it stand out through your text.


  3. No distorting allowed. Develop copy with the outlet in mind.
    I have heard plenty of horror stories about distorted images, typography and logos from my designer friends and coworkers.I love how romantically severe David Kadavy puts it in one of his emails from “Summer of Design”:“The subtle curves of letters have been drawn with extreme care and skill, and have been built upon thousands of years of tradition. So, these curves should never be haphazardly distorted. Never. Seriously, never.”And I think the same is true for how we use our copy. Clear, intentional copy considers the audience, the outlet, the timing and length restrictions to be developed. Trying to nip-and-tuck blog copy into other media platforms without regarding those specifics can put you in a tricky situation.

As you develop content, keep your core ideas sacred and spend time customizing how they are expressed, to make them fit perfectly into the medium you’re sharing them through.

Marielisa Alvarez
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